Tiger boys come up short vs. ‘Toppers, lose 2-1 in quarters

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Even though the Los Lunas High boys soccer season ended at the hands of a formidable opponent, the end did seem to come rather quickly.

The Tigers’ majestic 2011-12 season was brought to a close at the APS Soccer Complex, where they lost 2-1 to the Los Alamos Hilltoppers in the Class 4A state quarterfinals. A Los Alamos corner kick bounced off three Tiger players and into the net in the 61st minute, providing the winning margin for the Hilltoppers (14-7).

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Martin Saenz. of Los Lunas High, right, is taken down by Cameron Wilson of Los Alamos in Thursday’s Class 4A state quarterfinal. The Tigers’ breakthrough season ended with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Hilltoppers.

“The effort was there — the guys left it all on the field,” said LLHS coach Eliseo Aguirre. “We had opportunities. We just couldn’t finish.”

Los Alamos had several outstanding chances in the first half, but didn’t convert until just before halftime. Off a free kick, Michael Maestas eventually crossed the ball to Nick Thoma, who scored for a 1-0 lead.

Tiger sophomore Alejandro Garcia, the leading scorer in 4A, got his 39th goal of the season in the 45th minute to make it 1-1. The score, off of a through-ball from Mario E. Garcia, was his 39th goal of the season.

Los Lunas (15-7), the District 6-4A champion, applied pressure late and earned several free kicks, but the ‘Toppers kept the Tigers at bay. Aguirre normally encourages his team to play a possession-style game, especially on artificial turf, but made an exception Thursday.

“Their midfielders were killing us,” said Aguirre. “So we made the adjustment at halftime to kick the ball over them. It made a difference. We got more opportunities.”

With about three minutes left, senior Gustavo Muñoz, the Tigers’ regular set-kick specialist, took a free kick from about 25 yards out. Garcia got a head on it, but couldn’t quite direct it toward the goal.

The Hilltoppers committed a number of fouls in the waning moments that gave the Tigers some free kicks, but the Tigers simply could not get the ball to their scorers in the right spots on the field. Los Alamos coach Evan Gartz said he knew Garcia was left-footed and defended him that way, and said his team was “a little too aggressive” toward the end of the match.

It was the last Tiger soccer match for seniors Muñoz, Dylan Archibeque, Said Aguilera, David Perez, Martin Saenz and Jesus Villa. They led the team to one of its deepest runs into the playoffs since the 1983 team that won the program’s only state championship to date.

“That’s a heck of a way to go out,” said Aguirre. “I’m proud of all seven of them.”

The Tigers have a talented sophomore class that includes Garcia and goalkeeper Dylan Romero, who made six saves and other important plays Thursday.

“I told the younger guys, ‘Look how these seniors are hurting, and how much they wanted it,’” said Aguirre. “In my 14 years as coach, we never ended the season in the state quarterfinals before.”


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.